Zero waste, zero point

I attended a talk by Bea Johnson on ‘Simplifying Your Life’ this week. Her family has completely changed their lifestyle, e.g.,

…if your hair is short, you also have the “no-poo” option: rinse your hair, massage baking soda in, then rinse, with vinegar for shine

to reduce to virtually nothing the amount of household waste they generate that ends up in landfill.


This got me thinking…


It seems that the UK produces roughly 250 kg of landfill waste per person per year. Corroborated here.

Assume this is compacted to a volume with a density half that of water.

There are 25m households in the UK, with an average of 2.4 persons each.

This source says 33 sq m per person (which sounds about right given the above):

Household floor space per capita

With a ceiling height of 3.3m, this is 100 cubic metres of space per person.Which,

allowing for lifetimes of 100 years, the entire landfill waste generated by a household would occupy around half of the volume of the house.

OK, I’m probably off by a factor of 2 here and there, but this doesn’t seem to me to be so big an issue to need to solve so drastically, especially given that the amount of surface area covered by housing in the UK is quite small anyway.


3 Responses to Zero waste, zero point

  1. Anna Hatt says:

    Ah, but aren’t you assuming that the only implication of a certain volume of landfill is the air that it displaces? Surely it is also a measure of the quantity of resources which have been used to make something not of lasting value which is discarded in a form which is not easy to use again. Shampoo isn’t the worst offender, but the bottle and its contents will include petrochemicals made from oil, for example. It is more scary when you think of metals which we are running out of e.g. copper being dumped in landfill. Are we going to start mining the landfill to get it back? Anna (still reading, on Feedly now)

    • SadButMadLad says:

      Scrap only works economically when there is a lot of it. So a big hole in the ground full of rubbish has a lot of potential value in being dug up and re-processed.

      As for metals. None are thrown into landfill. Just about 99.9% of all metal is extracted before being put into landfill. Just look at iron ore. All the big smelting plants are closing down (except in China) because there is so much scrap iron around that it’s cheaper to melt it down and reuse. Lead is 100% recycled. Just about the same with copper. That’s why they are nicked so frequently.

      As for the shampoo, you need to look at the overall picture. Where does the baking soda come from, etc. Sodium Bicarb mainly comes from the US, so it’s mined, processed and shipped half around the world to make “natural” shampoo. Same argument with food miles. Sounds good but tomatoes from Spain are more eco-friendly than those forced and grown in heated green houses in the UK when you take into account the growing process. And with commercial shampoos, 99% of the product is water with a little bit of chemicals for the shampooing.

  2. SadButMadLad says:

    And how much waste is generated by the containers of baking soda and vinegar? Two containers instead of the one.

    Best way to reduce landfill is to remove food waste but throw everything else out together and have it sorted automatically with manual help by experts. Well experts in the sense that they are people who are paid low wages but who know what’s what. The automatic machines can sort out 90% of the waste, the people do the 10%. Everything can then be recycled with food waste going into digesters.

    The whole point about recycling is that it requires a lot of waste to be gathered together to be worthwhile. So you need a lot of electronics products to make it worthwhile extracting the metals. The same with plastics and other materials.

    And the only problem with landfill is not that we are running out of land to fill, it is the EU setting out fines for using landfill. There are so many quarries that it will take decades even at current rates before they fill up. And new quarries are being created. And once filled, they are covered over and we have land back to re-use. Land has been re-cycled.

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